Global Climate Change in Context

Subject GEOG30023 (2013)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2013.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 3 (Undergraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject is not offered in 2013.

Time Commitment: Contact Hours: Lectures: 14 x 1hr (4 x 1hr lectures will be given in the week prior to the field trip; the remainder will take place during the field trip and the first 6 weeks of Semester 1). Practicals: 6 x 3hr (to take place during the first 6 weeks of Semester 1)
Total Time Commitment:

124 hours


Completion of at least one of the following subjects or approval from the subject coordinator.

Study Period Commencement:
Credit Points:
Not offered in 2013
Not offered in 2013
Not offered in 2013
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge:

The prerequisites indicate that some background in Physical Geography and/or Earth Sciences is required. Interested students who are unsure if they possess sufficient academic background are welcome to contact the coordinator for advice: (

Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

It is University policy to take all steps to minimise the impact of disability upon academic study, and reasonable adjustments will be made to enhance a student's participation in the University's programs. This course requires all students to enrol in subjects where they must actively and safely contribute to laboratory activities and field trips. Students who feel their disability will impact on meeting this requirement are encouraged to discuss this matter with the Subject Coordinator and Disability Liaison Unit.


Melbourne School of Land & Environment Student Centre
Ground Floor, Melbourne School of Land & Environment (building 142)

Phone: 13 MELB (13 6352)

Subject Overview:

This subject examines the nature and causes of past changes in Earth’s climate during the Quaternary Period (the last 2.7 million years), with a particular emphasis on the last glacial-interglacial cycle. It aims to place modern climate and the projections of future global warming into a longer-term perspective, and will allow students to understand why human interference in the climate system may be a legitimate cause for concern. Emphasis is placed on how Earth materials (ice, rocks, sediments, landforms, biological materials) record past climate changes, the techniques used to extract this ‘palaeoenvironmental information’, and the principles that govern how this information is interpreted. Most of the subject will run prior to the start of semester one and be based around a field trip to the South Island of New Zealand. A pre-field trip essay will give students the basic background to the nature of Quaternary palaeoclimate. A series of lectures (held in New Zealand) will then cover the theoretical aspects of the subject in more detail, providing an important primer to the field work. The field component itself focuses on how particular environments (coastal, lake, fluvial, cave, and glacial) preserve evidence of past climate change. A further series of lectures and practicals will be conducted during the first 6 weeks of semester, and will focus on the nature of palaeoclimate data and how these are processed and interpreted. By the end of the subject, students will not only appreciate the dynamics of Earth’s past climate and the mechanisms that have forced it, but also the way in which we practice this important and growing field of study. Student numbers are subject to a quota. Quota forms can be obtained from the Dept. of Resource Management and Geography at 221 Bouverie St or online at The estimated cost of the field trip is in the vicinity of $900. The field trip will take place in the weeks immediately prior to the first week of Semester 1.


At the completion of this subject, students will have achieved the following objectives:

  • An understanding of the nature of past climate changes, i.e. the frequency, magnitude and geographic extent;
  • An understanding of the range of driving mechanisms of past climate changes, particularly how they vary according to the time scales considered;
  • An understanding of how specific environments and materials preserve evidence of past climate changes;
  • An understanding of the advantages and weaknesses of the various ‘palaeoclimate archives’;
  • Hands-on field experience in the identification, sampling and analysis of a range of important palaeoclimate archives;
  • Experience in organising, analysing and interpreting palaeoclimate data;
  • Familiarity with the key literature and current debates on past climates;
  • An understanding of how the current global warming debate fits into the longer-term perspective.

Individual Field Report (2,000 words), Due mid first semester - 50%, Computer based practicals (800 words), Due after completion of each session - 20%, and Research Assignment (1,200 words), Due before field trip - 30%.

Prescribed Texts:

William Ruddiman 2nd Ed (2008) Earth’s Climate: past and future. WH Freeman, New York.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:
  • ability to conduct library searches to source the latest relevant literature on key topic areas;
  • ability to comprehend some of the current debates in the field;
  • software skills for data handling and graphing, such as Excel;
  • basic introduction to state-of-the-art laboratory analytical methods (e.g. mass spectrometry, microsampling);
  • field skills, especially an ability to recognise landforms and sediments capable of preserving records of environmental change;
  • data interpretation skills, informed by the relevant literature;
  • group field and research activities.
Related Course(s): Master of Science (Geography)
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: Environmental Geographies, Politics and Cultures major
Environments Discipline subjects
Geography Major
Integrated Geography
Integrated Geography
Physical Geography
Physical Geography
Science credit subjects* for pre-2008 BSc, BASc and combined degree science courses
Science-credited subjects - new generation B-SCI and B-ENG. Core selective subjects for B-BMED.

Download PDF version.